Saturday my husband, son and I completed something I’ve wanted to do since moving to Santa Cruz County: We started up in Big Basin and hiked the Skyline to the Sea trail down to the ocean. It was a glorious day and we are now very tired. But I have the Santa Cruz Metro bus system (and a friend who alerted me to their new service) to thank for being able to do this great hike.
For those of you who don’t know, the trail from Big Basin breaks off of the Skyline trail (which I have also never hiked – something for another time!). The problem with doing this hike normally is that if you leave a car in Big Basin and hike down, you have two pretty difficult solutions: Either you hike back up to get your car or you do the crazy preparation of leaving one car at the beach, driving up, hiking down, driving the beach car back up to Big Basin (over an hour drive) and then back down again in two cars. Not exactly your best solution. However, a friend alerted me to the fact that the SC Metro had reinstated their excellent summer service that extends two bus lines out to the two end points of this hike. At 8:30 in the morning, we took a Metro bus up from Santa Cruz, and at 5:15 we grabbed the bus down at Waddell Creek State Beach. It cost $12 for the three of us, and worked like a charm. It was sort of amusing, also, to ride up in the morning with largely the same folks we rode back into town with in the afternoon (including a family that did the hike with a jogging stoller – don’t ask me how!).
The hike starts in redwoods, first the old growth of Big Basin and then younger second-growth forest. Part of the way through, you can go up to Berry Creek Falls, a lovely little waterfall with a nice overlook platform. Because we went on a Saturday in the summer, it was pretty full. There were about a dozen people at the platform with us, and as we started to leave, and enormous group started to come up the trail. (They turned out to be a group of older Vietnamese American adults from San Jose who regularly do trips together. This time they parked at the beach, hiked up to the falls, and then back to the beach.) So if you’re looking for solitude, this isn’t the trail for you, at least in high season.
Not far below the falls, the trail became much wider and was maintained for bikers and horses. There is a bike rack there for bikers who want to park and hike up to the waterfall, which is another option we discussed doing at a later time. From that point the trail was quite easy and almost all downhill. We got to the beach about 3:15, which left 2 hours to kill before the bus came.
At the beach, there’s a nice little nature center, Rancho del Oso, which is open until 4 p.m. To get there, once you get down to the ranger station which is on the mountain side of the highway, take a left to the marsh trail and follow that for about 10 minutes. The nature center offers very nice bathrooms, some exhibits about the local animals and plants (including some impressive taxidermy, such as the grizzly and mountain lion), and free filtered water.
The beach is a favorite place for kiteboarders, which made the rest of the wait pretty fun. We got to watch them struggling into and out of the water (the wind was quite brisk) and while in the water, sailing above the waves.
I highly recommend this trip. We paid for parking ($5 all day at the garage at the corner of Soquel and Front), but theoretically you could park further out for free and walk in. The bus pretty much filled up at the Metro station, though, so if you get on at a later stop, you’ll probably find standing room only, at least in high season. If you’re not a family of serious backpackers, this hike will be strenuous enough to make you feel like you’ve achieved something, and definitely doable for younger ones who like to hike. Watching as the ecosystem changed from redwood to chaparral to beach was a lovely way to spend a day.